The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
National Black Business Month is a time when individuals and businesses recognize Black-owned businesses across the country. While the largest and most prominent Black-owned businesses are regularly highlighted, this is also an opportunity to give specific recognition to the businesses contributing to the improvement of the material conditions of their communities.
“Black people represent 12.7% of the U.S. population but only 4.3% of the nation’s 22.2 million business owners,” according to Brookings. Black-owned businesses face more obstacles in creating and growing their businesses for various reasons — primarily struggling to secure capital including attaining loans from the banks and investors. Less than 1% are generating a median profit margin greater than 20%.
The Black businesses whose missions call for building supportive ecosystems among their own people have the greatest potential to create cycles that strengthen their communities and shrink the racial wealth gap. This can look like prioritizing hiring Black workers, contributing to mutual aid, and providing free or discounted services to Black people. Some Black-owned companies are equipping Black people with the tools they need to be competitive in our evolving economy. Others are creating platforms that amplify other Black entrepreneurs and small Black businesses, expanding their access to potential customers.
Black Girls CODE’s expressed mission it to build pathways for Black girls and other young women of color to embrace the current tech marketplace by introducing them to skills in computer programming and technology. Tech is an industry dominated by white and Asian men. For instance, of the “nearly 50,000 employees at Google in 2014, 83% were men, 60% were white, and 30% were Asian. Just 2.9% were Latino, and 1.9% Black,” according to LA Times.
Black Girls CODE believes radical action is needed to close the opportunity gap for Black women and girls, creating stronger economies and more equitable societies.
A growing industry, fueled by the need to create our own spaces, are Black-led markets and platforms that connect Black vendors with Black customers.
In an interview with REVOLT, founders of the New Orleans-based For US By Us Market, Jailaih Gowdy and Alexis Smith, discussed wanting to take a more active role in nurturing the mental health of people who looked like them while helping grow local Black businesses.
“At the time, we were dealing with so much uncertainty,” Smith said, referring to COVID-19 and the social unrest resulting from police brutality. “When Jailaih approached me with her idea, I knew this was a way I could jump in and help create some type of wealth option for Black people, while creating more community, love and awareness.”
What they created was a local organization that offers Black-owned businesses and farmers a platform to promote and sell their products to the public. They hope to expand their markets and education, as well as eliminate the stigma around Black people’s health and eating habits. The duo believes that encouraging Black people to be the solution to issues in their own communities is vitally important. Not just in New Orleans but everywhere.
“We want to grow our organization by mobilizing the market and reaching more Black communities across the nation,” said Gowdy.
Celebrating and reinforcing pride in Black culture is an essential benefit of the growth of Black businesses and is often the driving force for many Black creators and entrepreneurs. This is especially necessary in a time when Black culture is regularly commodified and exploited.
Café Con Libros in Brooklyn, founded by Kalima DeSuze, is an intersectional feminist community bookstore and coffee shop that thoughtfully curates a selection of books “guided by the lush cannon of Black Feminist thought producers and activists.” Taking aim at Amazon, the Café Con Libros team urges people to buy books from people who want to sell books instead of an algorithm created by a billionaire who wants to colonize the moon.
The bookstore, which seeks to uplift stories of women and girls around the globe, recognizes that entrepreneurs’ roles in the global commercial market can either be complicit in exploitative practices or rooted in fairness and equality, and is committed to the latter.
Seattle-based urban farm and community farming program Nurturing Roots was founded by Nyema Clark who is pursuing Black liberation by securing publicly owned underutilized land where Black folks can grow things and heal. Through her community-building agricultural projects, Clark prioritizes self-sufficiency, food empowerment, social justice, and education with a stated commitment to enriching underserved communities, empowering the youth and contributing to community economic sustainability.
Supporting Black-owned businesses can also fill paucities in the market, addressing a persistent lack of access to services and products for Black people.
The 4th Ave Market is a massive Black-owned online beauty store in the U.S. for people of color that carries thousands of Black-owned brands of hair, skin, and personal care products. It also invests in BIPOC businesses and employees to give back to the community it’s built on.
According to their mission statement, the consumer-centric platform strives to “bridge the gap between buyers and sellers providing access to brands made for us and by us — supporting the product innovators, styling professionals and influencers who seek to fulfill the needs of the undeserved market.”
The market’s name and founding principles comes from the historic 4th Avenue District in Birmingham, Alabama. Like Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, the 4th Avenue District was a thriving Black community with a bustling economy at the height of Jim Crow era segregation. At its peak, the district was home to more than 60% of all Black-owned businesses in the city.
Ethel’s Club, founded by Naj Austin in 2019, is a social wellness and co-working space in Brooklyn curated by young adults of color for young adults of color. While co-working spaces can provide a sense of community, invaluable networking and collaborative opportunities and access to resources, these white-dominated spaces have been notoriously alienating for Black people. Ethel’s Club was Austin’s answer to this dilemma.
In response to COVID-19, Austin provided people with virtual gathering sessions centered around wellness, healing and connection for Black and other people of color, as well as grieving sessions in the wake of the 2020 murder George Floyd as well as Breonna Taylor’s killing by the police.
Among Black business owners, the clear emphasis on wellness is born directly from the inordinate negative impact that systemic racism heaps onto Black communities. According to Census Data, Black people own approximately 124,551 businesses with nearly 30% of those businesses focused on healthcare and social assistance — the highest percentage of any minority group.
The Black-led mental health service Hurdle merges the evolving mental health care industry with racial justice by connecting Black clients with Black mental health professionals. It becomes clear how crucial a service like this is when you dig into the numbers and discover that only 4% of American psychologists are Black, according to the American Psychological Association.
Black women are especially involved in growing Black businesses centered on healthcare and social assistance businesses, leading over half of those owned by Black people.
Frontline Doulas, founded by Khefri Riley and Dr. Sayida Peprahs, provides non-clinical support during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. Recently, there’s been a spotlight on the lack of adequate care available to pregnant Black women, contributing to them having the highest rates of pregnancy-related deaths — most of which are preventable.
“Having someone there to advocate makes a big difference,” said Felicia Frances-Edwards, one of the original founding doulas. Frontline provides doulas to Black women free of charge in an effort to counteract this disparity in childbirth complications.
The recent celebration of the legacy of Black Wall Street is a reminder that supporting not just Black businesses but Black businesses that specifically seek to uplift and contribute to the Black community is essential to the survival and growth of these communities. Before integration, there existed a natural reciprocal nurturing between Black businesses and the communities they existed in. Now, whether it’s through providing training and education, promoting sustainability, emphasizing health and social services, fostering pride in our identities, etc., one of the best ways to encourage the advancement of Black people as a whole is to support the Black-owned businesses that are explicitly and tangibly committed to our progress.
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